What does it mean to be a real estate agent? The famous line from Rodney Dangerfield is the first thing that pops in my mind. He made a career out of gettin’ "no respect," and making us laugh about it.

I heard a cringe-inducing "joke" at a recent holiday party that was no laughing matter.

When the conversation inevitably turned to real estate, a guest told my friend, "Yeah, I was so bored last week I called a real estate agent in Tahoe and told the agent to send me some listings. The agent sent me more than 100!"

FRIEND: "Are you actually interested in buying a home in Tahoe?"

GUEST: "Heck no, but that agent didn’t have anything to do, anyway!"

(Insert "Bad-um tsh!" drum effect here.)

As agents, we get no respect.

Especially when we aren’t respecting ourselves.

This scenario is far too common. And why? It shouldn’t be.

Instead of receiving a call like that and crawling all over our desks to accommodate some stranger from three states away, every potential client lead should be screened and qualified — even the ones who walk through our front door.

Only a handful of questions are necessary to sum up the situation at hand.

  • "Are you currently working with a real estate agent?"
  • "Are you financially prequalified to purchase a home?"
  • "Who is your mortgage broker?"
  • "Would you please forward me a copy of the prequalification letter?"

These four questions alone have informed us of the appropriate next step — and given the potential client a taste of the prepared professional with whom they are working.

Our real problem is the desperate agent — the one who never says "no" and who is continually spinning her wheels and racing to answer every lookie-loo’s question, without qualification.

A new face walks in the door, and before the word "Hello," agent X has her keys in hand and a highlighted map of town stapled to the front of a prepared Pee Chee folder. "My car or yours?" is her first question.

Meanwhile, agent Y has received an inquiry on his website. He blasts the sender back a three-page email of graphs, pie charts and 25 "Hot Deals" that are move-in ready. What agent Y doesn’t know is that his new "hot prospects" will be using their daughter-in-law (an agent from New Zealand) to write a deal, but they didn’t want to "waste her time" upfront.

For the most part, agents do a terrible job at qualifying prospective buyers (and sellers). And this is one of the primary reasons people lack respect for our profession. I don’t blame the partygoer for calling Idaho for listings because he’s behaving in the manner in which we’ve trained him. I do blame the agent for bowing to his demands without deference to our business.

So who are these desperate agents?

You. Me. We all started out desperate and super-duper positive (yes, both). So, we would run down every lead (the grocery checker, the man at Starbucks, our vet’s assistant who asked how our open house went) and pester them to death by filling their inbox with three dozen new listings a day.

We are the squeaky wheel. Our newsletters fly off the shelves. Postcards, door knockers, apple pies! And even if they don’t buy — like, today — these are our customers of the future. We have to keep turning that wheel and keeping in touch so we can eventually … go crazy.

And even though many of us finally learned how to qualify our buyers, it’s a sad fact that most of us jump right back into that hamster wheel when we start to feel a pinch.

I admit to being a frequent visitor to the exercise circuit. Was it a slow month? Beware of mentioning the word "estate" or words that sound like "estate" when around me (even once while at a doctor’s office — my bad) when I’m in that mode. "But I had all the right data on this month’s closings!"

Are you hearing me?

This is just a humble petition for agents to remember that we are professionals, not hopeless do-it-alls. Not utilizing proper buyer qualification plays into the agent stereotype, which paints us as little more than fancy marketing machines and keepers of the lockbox keys.

So the next time you feel a twinge of desperation, take a breath. Get out your list of buyer prequalification questions. Speak deliberately. Have a plan.

This isn’t a punch line. This is how we gain real respect and truly create clients for the future.

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